Edinburgh's City Centre Transformation: Council's £314m 10-year strategy explained

COUNCILLORS have agreed a final strategy for a 10-year project to overhaul how people move around the city centre.
Waverley Bridge could be closed in the plansWaverley Bridge could be closed in the plans
Waverley Bridge could be closed in the plans

The city centre transformation project will put more emphasis on walking, cycling and public transport in an attempt to improve air quality and reduce the number of car journeys through the city centre.

What are the plans?

The ambitious strategy includes creating a large pedestrian priority area in the city centre – as well as improving infrastructure on key routes for cyclists.

Integrated cycle lanes will be installed on George IV BridgeIntegrated cycle lanes will be installed on George IV Bridge
Integrated cycle lanes will be installed on George IV Bridge
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There are also proposals to close Waverley Bridge to traffic and create a car-free plaza, shut off some roads in the Old Town to traffic and build a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists, connecting the Old Town and the New Town.

Cars would be treated as “guests” in the city centre, Lothian Road could be turned into a “boulevard”, Princes Street transformed into a more friendly area for pedestrians and six public transport hubs are proposed.

Will roads be closed to cars?

The proposals include closing several roads to cars. Bank Street at the top of The Mound will be closed to traffic, except cars and taxis and Candlemaker Row will only be accessible to buses. Cockburn Street, Victoria Street, Forrest Road, the High Street between North Bridge and St Mary’s Street and Lawnmarket will also be closed.

George IV Bridge will be transformed in the plansGeorge IV Bridge will be transformed in the plans
George IV Bridge will be transformed in the plans

As well as Waverley Bridge being turned into a pedestrianised plaza, the council says there may be other opportunities to pedestrianise streets in the south side of the city in the future, such as West College Street.

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The proposals also include a reallocation of traffic lanes on Cowgate, The Bridges corridor, Calton Road, Johnston Terrace, Lothian Road, Morrison Street, Ponton Street, West Approach Road, Princes Street, Charlotte Square, St Andrew Square and Lauriston Place.

Why do the council want to change the city centre?

The council says the case to overhaul the city centre is social, economic and environmental. The authority has already committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 – with transport playing a big role in the transformation.

The proposals will sit alongside the proposed Low Emission Zone (LEZ) to tackle air pollution by reducing the number of car journeys in the city – while chiefs say a joined-up public transport and active travel network is vital with the Capital’s population expected to increase by 15 per cent by 2041 to around 600,000.

When will the changes happen?

The final strategy includes a draft timetable for delivery. Next year, work will begin to develop an integrated operations and management plan for the city centre – as well as a public transport plan.

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Car-free streets in the Old Town could start from 2021, while the closure of Waverley Bridge is expected to happen between 2022 and 2023.

A trial of a free city centre hopper bus could take place in the first half of 2023 – while a new pedestrian bridge could be built over the Waverley Valley by 2023 to 2024.

It is thought that an integrated ticketing system won’t be in place until 2025 or 2026 – while transport hubs and interchanges won’t be expected to be finished until 2030.

How much will it all cost?

Funding has already been secured for phase one of the project, which includes modernising and improving George Street and other parts of the New Town as well as key cycling routes.

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But, the costed proposals will need £314m of funding over the 10-year project for all measures to be implemented in full. Transport chiefs estimate that the transformation will bring £420m of quantifiable benefits to the city over a 25-year period.

What about the buses?

Transport chiefs insist that buses will be key to the city centre transformation and will be given a positive platform to embrace change – but Lothian Buses have raised concerns the project could lead to increased journey times, while the free hopper bus could impact on revenues for the company, which is owned by the council.

The number of bus stops, particularly on Princes Street are set to be reduced in a bid to speed up journeys, while buses are set to benefit from a reduction in car traffic in the city centre. Proposals are also being drawn up for all bus lanes to be in operation seven days a week from 7am to 7pm – while licence plate cameras could be used for enforcement.

Is everyone happy with the plans?

Despite the SNP-Labour administration and Green and Liberal Democrat councillors backing the final strategy, Conservatives have called for the overall strategy to be put on hold until funded projects, such as the George Street improvements have been successfully delivered. Lib Dems have also called for more certainly over the viability of buses, a concern also shared by the Tories.

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A second round of public consultation, which had more than 3,000 responses, indicated that around 80 per cent of people expressed “slight or strong agreement” for the proposed vehicle-free streets, pedestrian priority zone, public realm enhancements, fully connected central cycle network, city centre hopper bus and public transport interchanges.